Dramaturgy

I just finished a phone meeting with Heather Helinsky, dramaturg. I learned so much, and I want to share it with my playwriting friends. 

I first met Heather at GPTC in 2012, where she was the dramaturg for my play On the 8's. I was totally impressed with her then. She's scary smart, and I came away from that experience with the impression: this woman knows her stuff. 

Recently, I felt stalled on my play, The Memory of Ice. I had read on FB that she was working with another play that had a science base about global warming. So kind of on a whim, I reached out to see if she took on clients. And she said yes! 

For reading/thinking about my play and 90-minute phone session, she charged me a very reasonable fee, which makes it seem possible to afford dramaturgical support on an on-going basis. Side note: anyone interested would have to approach her for current rates, availability, etc. 

Take-aways: 

  1. Clear notes about the characters, the relationships, and the stakes.
  2. Confirmation about what was working and what wasn't. These were things I had some gut feelings about, but it really helped to have another person articulate it.
  3. Identification of places where my voice was coming through. And I felt like my authentic voice was something that was being encouraged, even nurtured. 
  4. Revelation that my play has stakes, but they are in wrong place! I don't know why I couldn't see it before. Maybe it's because the play has had two vastly different iterations, written 10-years apart, and things just have become muddy. Probably most writers can relate to the feeling of not being able to see a script clearly anymore. This revelation has clarified new stakes for the play that makes total sense to me. 

Now I feel all jazzed up and ready to revise. I have a clear idea of several things I need to work on. She suggested a homework assignment, some resources, and even connected me to another playwright writing about Alaska.  

I wish now I had been working with Heather all along. Why didn't I do this with her years ago? I don't know. I probably thought I couldn't afford it. Or maybe I thought I didn't need it, since I teach playwriting. Wrong! No matter how much I know about the craft of playwriting, when it comes to my own work, I'm convinced now that I need this specific kind of support. 

Bottom line, a dramaturg can be a gift. The fee for this expertise is extremely reasonable. Could I spend that money on other things? Sure. But when it comes down to it, very few things in my life are as important to me as making progress with my plays. 

Heather's website includes a list of recent plays she has worked with, her impressive resume, and client reviews. 

Play Penn also offers a rent-a-dramaturg service that I used a few years ago. They paired me with someone excellent. Their prices have gone up slightly, I think. But I'm sure the money is well worth it.